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“I usually cry at every wedding.”

There was the time when the cranky 3-year-old ringbearer took off his tuxedo pants and threw them in a toilet. Then there was the time when the best man dropped the ring, which bounced down the chancel steps and then rolled down the aisle. As administrative assistant to the dean of Rockefeller Chapel and de facto wedding coordinator, Glenda Pence has seen it all, or at least most of it. The mothers of the brides are the most demanding part of her job, she says: “They get real nervous.”

To help them stay calm, Pence works to keep everything under control. For couples without a wedding coordinator, Pence arranges a dressing room for the bride, lines up the bridal party in the narthex, and sends the bride down the aisle on the correct musical cue. She keeps a photo album of Rockefeller weddings to give couples decorating ideas, and has found ribbon to wrap around bouquets when the bride forgot to bring any. Pence even irons wedding dresses. The one thing she won’t do is give marital advice.

About 25 to 30 weddings take place in Rockefeller each summer between convocation and Labor Day, she estimates. Couples affiliated with the University have three three-hour time slots to choose from on Saturdays, and unaffiliated couples have one slot on Sundays. She attends all the weddings, as well as the rehearsals.

Pence ends up spending about half her weekends at the chapel because she also helps organize the many memorial services, graduation ceremonies, and speeches by visiting luminaries that take place at Rockefeller. “I had to find aspirin for Toni Morrison and sneak her out the back door,” Pence recalls. Last but not least, Pence serves as Rockefeller’s business manager, keeping track of rental fees, ordering supplies, and paying the choir.

She’s been doing all this for the last three and a half years, though she’s worked at the University for 24, first in alumni relations, then at the Hospitals, then the GSB. In 1996, she helped coordinate the Rockefeller wedding of one of her former GSB supervisors. And just two years ago, she coordinated her own wedding—to Anthony Kucinski, the chapel’s former custodian.

“Everybody always gives me such a hard time: ‘You have the nicest job.’ Yeah, I do. It is the nicest job.”

Even in the midst of a Chicago winter, Ken Yliniemi gets to come to the office in short sleeves. As manager of the 10,000-square-foot greenhouse on the sixth floor of the Donnelley Biological Sciences Learning Center, he enjoys year-round sunshine through the glass enclosure.

The greenhouse’s nine separate rooms contain plants used in about 24 different experiments, mostly by researchers in ecology & evolution and molecular genetics & cell biology. Other greenhouse plants are used for teaching purposes. “It’s not a display,” he says, pointing out the locked doors. “It’s for work.”

Because different plants and projects have different needs, a computerized system in the fifth-floor offices monitors the rooms’ conditions and adjusts lights, fans, vents, and other controls accordingly. “I don’t talk to the plants,” Yliniemi says with a smile. “We have CO2 injectors for each room, so we can do that artificially.”

His career is rooted in his days growing up on a Minnesota farm. Yliniemi studied agriculture, specializing in horticulture, as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, then earned a master’s in plant biology. He managed the University of Minnesota’s greenhouse until coming to the U of C in January 1998.

He begins his mornings by making the rounds of the rooms, observing an order of entry designed to avoid contaminating the experiments. He keeps a careful eye out for equipment problems: if the greenhouse gets too warm, research could be ruined. Then he’ll discuss the day’s projects, from preparing soil for planting to repotting plants that need to flower, with his two assistants. They also share watering duties. Between the three of them, someone works an eight-hour shift every day of the year. Yliniemi is on 24-hour call; the computer system has an alarm that can reach him at home.

But his life isn’t all plants; he likes the people, too. “I work closely with the researchers. Their projects become your projects,” he says. “When it succeeds, we’re just thrilled with it. My staff and I always like to pat ourselves on the back.”

“If it’s made out of wood—we work on it.”

The gothic stone exteriors of the University’s buildings have withstood more than 100 years of Chicago weather. The gothic wood interiors of those buildings need to withstand more insidious threats, like energetic undergrads leaping to touch the top of a door frame. That’s one way to loosen dentil work, the small wooden blocks at the top of the trim in the Ida Noyes Cloister Club. “The trim gets broken pretty constantly,” says carpenter David Penrose. “They save up a bunch of it and then we do it for all the different rooms.”

Penrose, who’s been with the carpentry shop of the University’s facilities services department for more than 19 years, taught himself how to carve, as well as how to do more standard carpentry. A Navy man who studied art at college, he’s “always been handy,” even building his Indiana home himself.

Having done work on each of Ida Noyes’s floors, Penrose cites it as his favorite campus building with respect to woodwork. In addition to fixing the trim, he’s repaired the flooring, made two doors, carved an elaborate new backplate for the large wooden chair in the visitors’ lounge, and recreated the fingers of a troll on the second-floor landing.
“The fingers were broken off, but the hands weren’t in the same position as the troll on the opposite side,” he explains. With no pictures of the intact troll from which to copy the original fingers, a friend took pictures of Penrose’s folded hands for a model. Penrose then took the troll off the wall and into the shop, where he joined a block of oak to it and shaped the fingers using a hand-held high-speed grinder and chisels.

More often than intricate woodworking, his days include fixing doors and handrails, making cabinets, and boarding up broken windows. He likes the variety best of all. “You’re not bored by hammering nails into walls,” Penrose says. In this era of disposable goods and assembly-line production, there’s also the challenge of living up to the original craftsmanship. “We expect our work to last another 100 years,” he says. “That’s what we try for, anyway.”

“I really love to play the broker. Clients come with the need, and my ability to make the fit for them is very rewarding.”

Want to see Sammy Sosa from along the first baseline? Have you been hoping for the chance to be in the audience during a Jerry Springer slugfest? If you’re affiliated with the GSB, Catherine Kirk can help you out. The director of the business school’s concierge service, Information Plus, Kirk handles these requests and all kinds of others for GSB students, faculty, staff, alumni, and corporate recruiters.

“Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Springer are difficult requests,” says Kirk. “Jerry Springer, for some reason, is popular. We don’t understand why.” Sports events, on the other hand, aren’t difficult to get tickets to, but good seats are going to cost. Not that Kirk and her assistant will charge—Information Plus is a free service—but ticket agents ask a hefty price. Besides the usual ticket and reservation requests, Kirk has gone so far as to have gloves specially tailored for a client with a misshapen hand and to track down full Highland dress for a student to wear to a formal.

She started as a concierge ten years ago at the Ambassador West Hotel on Chicago’s Gold Coast, switched to a corporate concierge company, then ran her own concierge business for three years. In 1994, Kirk began working in the social sciences computing center and taking classes toward an M.B.A. at the GSB. Deputy dean Mark Zmijewski thought she might be the person to run a proposed centralized reception area. Kirk came on board in late 1996 and opened Information Plus in November 1997. Because it’s the first academic concierge service in the country, notes Kirk, “One of the greatest challenges is legitimizing this service with our community.”

The five-day-a-week, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. service now receives about 200 requests per quarter, she estimates, mostly via phone, e-mail, or drop-in. The fall and winter are dominated by corporate recruiters who need transportation to and from the campus, while spring brings a flood of graduates seeking hotel-room blocks for relatives and help organizing cruises on the lake.

Sometimes the job calls for exercising a little discrimination. “We won’t do anything illegal, unethical, or unkind,” Kirk says. Note: she will not find you an escort.

“For injured athletes, a lot of times the whole world is over. As they heal, that comes back.”

Sometimes you gotta be cruel to be kind. Which is why Mark Timmons, assistant trainer in the physical education and athletics department, sends electrical currents through some students’ knees and watches others sweat it out on stationary bicycles: they’ll be stronger for it in the end. He’s a bit easier on infielder Nick Nimerala, who’s getting a therapeutic ultrasound to deep-heat his strained tendon (above).

Timmons is part of a staff of four employees, two full-time and two part-time, who look after the physical health of Chicago’s varsity athletes and coaches. That can mean anything from treating a blister inflicted by new shoes to helping someone rehabilitate after knee surgery. Timmons estimates that 90 percent of campus athletes need the field house training room at some point during their careers, usually for minor problems such as muscle strains and mild ligament tears.

Timmons’s job takes him outside the training room, too, traveling to competitions to take care of any on-the-spot injuries and leaving him with barely a day off from mid-August to mid-December. He works mostly with the baseball, basketball, and football teams, which provide occasional scary moments. “We had a running back who was hit really hard and knocked unconscious,” he remembers. “By the time I got to him, he was starting to come to. It’s always nice to get to them and just hear ‘I sprained my ankle.’”

Some of the work, notes Timmons, is trying to prevent injuries: “We work with the coaches in developing conditioning programs and going through a physical-exam process before the start of the season to identify athletes at risk.”

The trainer received his own training through an apprenticeship program at Eastern Michigan University, his alma mater. To obtain certification from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, he also had to pass an exam that tests theory and skills. Timmons worked at Michigan high schools and at St. Ambrose University before joining the U of C 11 years ago. He says the atmosphere here has changed since then. “The way our athletes can balance academics and athletics has always been amazing,” Timmons explains. “Now there are more and more students and faculty at games. That means a lot to our athletes.”

“We are cautiously optimistic that we’ll be Year 2000 compliant.”

Eugene Humphrey has big plans for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day: hanging out at the University of Chicago Hospitals, hoping that the Y2K bug doesn’t bite. As the Hospitals’ Y2K project manager, he thinks the Hospitals will be just fine—it’s everybody else that worries him. “One of our main concerns is the possibility of getting an influx of patients from other area hospitals that may not be as far along as we are,” he explains. “Internally, we’ll be fine. It’s the external things that kind of keep you up at night.”

Although Y2K planning at the Hospitals began in 1996, Humphrey—an evening and weekend administrator at the Hospitals since January 1997—wasn’t tapped for the team until June 1998. Since then, he and project director Ashley Shrader have worked with the Y2K task force and steering committee to map out plans for reaching total compliancy and to see those plans through.

The team focused on four disciplines, or areas of concern: information services and systems, facility operations, biomedical devices, and business partners. That meant about 16,000 items needed to be checked out. A major part of Humphrey’s job has been to query 2,500 business partners—companies that supply the Hospitals with equipment and services—as to their Y2K compliancy and that of their products. The paper documentation fills five large file boxes.

As of June 18, the Hospitals were 80 percent Y2K compliant. The most critical devices, such as defibrillators, internal pacemakers, and operating-room equipment, should be taken care of by the end of September, assures Humphrey. Less crucial items like thermometers and beds take a lower priority. “For the most part, equipment is really not affected,” he says. “We’re probably remediating [repairing or replacing] less than 10 percent of the devices.”

Current efforts are also concentrated on contingency planning, making sure each department is well-staffed and -stocked as the digits change from 1999 to 2000. Developing a blueprint for the unknown has been exciting, says Humphrey. Of course, his own future is also uncertain, as the new year will render his job obsolete. But first he’s got to get past the next big date: February 29, 2000.

“I feel like I’m doing more than just retail. We’re educating the public about a field I dearly love.”

The Oriental Institute Museum is a living monument to antiquity, including the ancient art of buying and selling. As manager of the museum shop, the Suq (Arabic for “market”), Denise Browning purchases goods from “a huge conglomeration of contacts” that includes two West African bead traders whose family has been in the business for 1,000 years. “That’s my love—beads,” says Browning, a Syro-Palestinian archaeologist and onetime OI grad student. “I’ve always felt that beads were an important part of archaeology that have been overlooked.”

Some of the beads and jewelry she buys for the store are as much as 300 years old. From the loose beads, Browning and two members of her staff of volunteers and students make about 10 percent of the jewelry that the Suq offers. Whether old or new, the pieces must be of styles and materials that would have been used in the ancient Near East. “We don’t carry faceted stones because there were no cut stones,” Browning explains. Many of the necklaces aren’t symmetrical, which, she notes, is more of a Western tradition. Modern trends affect sales, though: as chokers have become more popular in recent years, the Suq’s shorter necklaces have sold better.

Besides jewelry, the store sells books, slides, rugs, bowls, sculpture, and trinkets. With the ongoing renovation of the museum, the Suq is redoing its guidebook and adding new slides. Browning also plans to have some of the newly displayed items reproduced for the store. All proceeds go toward OI projects, particularly the research archives.

The Suq has undergone its own renovation this year, the first since Browning started working weekends at the shop as a student nearly 20 years ago. Besides receiving new electrical wiring and a fresh coat of paint, the Suq had its ceiling raised and space reconfigured. “We designed it ourselves,” says Browning. “That’s why this job is interesting—we get to do something different every year.”

What remains constant is a clientele that includes Egyptophiles and tourists from around the globe. The store has books on hieroglyphs for 6-year-olds and academics, she notes. “The most challenging is helping 100 schoolchildren find what they need in 15 minutes before the bus leaves…that they can afford and that will stimulate their interest.”

“In fall, people still think they have a lot of money and time, so they come early and stay late.”

When ER fans watch the University of Chicago Hospitals helicopter deliver a patient to the fictional County General Memorial Hospital, they’re probably thinking about Anthony Edwards, not Mose Freeman. But if it weren’t for Freeman and his colleagues at the University of Chicago Aeromedical Network, the Dauphin 2 aircraft, known as Aeromed 1, would never make it off the ground.

One of six UCAN communications specialists, Freeman sits at the network’s “nerve center” in the basement of the U of C Children’s Hospital, taking calls from physicians, nurses, police officers, fire fighters, or paramedics asking for emergency flights or transports between hospitals. As he takes the medical and landing zone information, a color-coded map on the wall helps Freeman find the nearest appropriate hospital, be it one with an adult or pediatrics trauma center or one with a burn unit. UCAN’s computer system contains information on all hospitals within the 250-mile radius that the helicopter services, so Freeman knows whom to call at the receiving hospital, where the helipad is, and what the flight time should be.

After dispatching the flight crew—a pilot, doctor, and nurse—he keeps in touch with them at all times via a radio system and walkie-talkies. It’s Freeman’s job to coordinate the efforts of the flight team, the caller, and the receiving hospital. “We’re the hub,” he says. “This is where it all begins. They ring us up, and we go into action.”

An emergency medical technician who also works for the Dolton, IL, fire department, Freeman maintains his EMT status in part by spending time in the air. He received his communications training during his six years with the Marine Corps, before he started working at the Hospitals 19 years ago. He joined UCAN in 1983 when it started, helping to set up the communications center.

“You never know what you’re going to get when the phone rings,” says Freeman. “The adrenaline starts flowing when you’ve got an accident scene and you’re sending the helicopter out to give them the help they need.”

“I really like working with one-of-a-kind things. I like helping to make discoveries.”

Most people in the organismal biology & anatomy department have taken a hefty number of science classes. Carol Abraczinskas learned what she knows by drawing it. A scientific illustrator, she graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1990 and began working at the Oriental Institute through a co-op program in 1989. When the professor she worked with left, paleontologist Paul Sereno was looking for an illustrator, so she transferred to his lab. Her drawings of dinosaurs and ancient birds have appeared in scientific journals, national magazines, and museum exhibits. Abraczinskas has also passed on some of her skills to several groups of BSD graduate students, teaching a class in scientific illustration every 18 months or so.

Working from specimens, casts of specimens, and photographs, Abraczinskas meticulously draws the bones with a technical pencil, occasionally opting for pen and ink. With tiny dinosaurs, she uses a camera lucida and microscope that project an enlarged image of the specimen onto her paper so she can trace the outline. For incomplete specimens, Abraczinskas and Sereno discuss how best to fill in the blanks.

Working on short- and long-term projects simultaneously, it might take Abraczinskas a month to sketch and revise a detailed illustration, and as much as two and a half years for a series of drawings. She doesn’t use a computer to draw the details, but she does use one when she needs a line drawing with labels.

One of her favorite specimens is Eoraptor, a 228 million-year-old, 3-foot-long dinosaur discovered by Sereno’s team in Argentina in 1991. “We worked with this one specimen for such a long time,” Abraczinskas recalls. “I feel like the specimen is my friend.” Her illustration of it hangs above the door inside her office, and a cast of its skull, painted to look like the original, sits on her bookshelf at home. Another favorite is Suchomimus, discovered in 1997 in Niger and announced in 1998. While drawing its foot-long thumb claw, she noticed grooves that Sereno concluded may have been for blood vessels. “When you draw something,” she says, “you spend so much time with it that you make a lot of observations.”

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